On Sunday, 5 May 1991, Mugello celebrated Ferrari Day. At the Tuscan circuit, refurbished and equipped with the latest technology from the Maranello factory that bought it a year ago to make it a test and research centre, all of the 1,800 or so employees, with their families, gathered behind closed doors for an in-house party led by president Piero Fusaro and his deputy Piero Ferrari. Also present were Alain Prost, Jean Alesi and test drivers Morbidelli and Montermini. While Alesi completes a few laps entertaining the public, Prost is the author, after the one at Imola, of another incredible accident: the Frenchman drives a hundred metres and, still in the pit lane, ends up against the protective wall, ruining the nose and the front suspension of his car. Needless to say, the episode leaves everyone stunned, almost ruining the party. It just was not wanted for a ceremony that was also supposed to be like the reunion of a big family eager to get together after a difficult and unfortunate period, on the eve of an important race like the Monaco Grand Prix. The Monte-Carlo appointment is seen as the moment of a possible relaunch, even if there will be no shortage of difficulties. The traps of the track, the problems one has to face on a circuit where the slightest mistake may cost elimination and technical values can yield to human ones. For Prost and Alesi, the Monaco Grand Prix represents an opportunity for redemption. In Monte-Carlo, the challenge between Ayrton Senna, undisputed leader of the championship with three wins out of three races, will be fierce. Looking back, Senna and Prost have monopolised the last seven years of racing: four victories for the Frenchman (1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988), three for the Brazilian (1987, 1989 and 1990). More recent statistics are not in Ferrari's favour. In the seven years taken into consideration, McLaren, first powered by Porsche and then Honda, won six times, and in 1987 the Lotus-Honda of the South American star.
The latest first place by a Ferrari driver dates t back to 1981, ten years ago (Gilles Villeneuve). Now, it is said that Alesi (second at Monte-Carlo in 1990 with Tyrrell), may be in some respects (impetuousness, courage, recklessness) the heir in pectore of the great Canadian. The Sicilian-born boy, therefore, is also called upon to do his utmost. However, one cannot hide the fact that in the eye of the storm is above all his teammate, the more experienced Alain Prost, who has taken on the difficult task of bringing Ferrari back to victory in the World Championship. After the disappointments of the past few months, the French driver must absolutely summon up the courage and recover that slice of credibility that he lost at Imola. It will not be easy, the pressure is high. But a man who has been three times World Champion, who has won more than anyone else in Formula 1, cannot afford to fail this time. Provided, of course, that his Ferrari is competitive and does not get distracted like yesterday at Mugello. On Wednesday, 8 May 1991, on the eve of the Monaco Grand Prix, one wonders whether Ferrari fans are masochists or their faith is unwavering. One opts for the second hypothesis, as the Italians invade the Principality, as in the best years of the Maranello team, in view of the fourth round of the Formula 1 World Championship, which kicks off on Thursday with the first day of practice. Grandstand tickets are sold out and scalpers are at work: a seat costs up to 1.000.000 lire and a walk among the VIPs in the pits 5.000.000 lire. We shall see who is right. In the Monte-Carlo showcase, Ferrari has to get out of the crisis that is gripping it. Three cars for the two drivers, the reserve car destined for Jean Alesi (there is also a fourth, but it will only be used in the event of irreparable damage to one of the other cars), special engines and little talk. Indeed, Alain Prost is not even seen in the pits, at least until the evening when he arrives at the hotel. Alesi says, pardon the pun, that he has nothing to say. The only one who utters a few sentences is Cesare Fiorio, apparently calm.
"The past is forgotten, let's not blame it on Prost. It is true that we had some differences of opinion, but these are things that happen in all sporting and working environments. For us this is a very difficult race, because we are under pressure. But because of results that haven't arrived, people think Ferrari is in a worse situation than it really is. Everything has gone wrong for us so far. And, without talking about bad luck, we expect to recover. We are doing everything we can to regain the positions we have struggled to gain in recent years".
The Maranello team's sporting director also entertains himself in a mysterious conversation with McLaren manager Ron Dennis on Ferrari's motorhome: a simple exchange of views or, as the vicious rumours claim, a talk about the future of Ayrton Senna? This too will have to be verified. In the meantime, the Italian drivers think that there could be a Ferrari comeback at Monte-Carlo. Almost unanimous opinions, according to which the Maranello team will begin to climb the slope, after the difficulties and controversies encountered since the beginning of the season, right here in the Principality, in the Monaco Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious races of the season. While the men of the Maranello team limit their words to the bare minimum, intent on concentrating on the race and the not inconsiderable problems to be faced, the other racers are siding with and for Ferrari. Riccardo Patrese, who won at Monte-Carlo in 1982 with Brabham, says:
"It is clear that I am betting on myself and my team, Williams-Renault. At Imola in the last race I was very unlucky, blocked by a banal breakdown, but I think I am competitive. And on this occasion too I will do everything I can to prove it. Senna is always the man to beat, but if we don't stop him, the championship will end prematurely and he will lose all interest. However, I am also convinced that Ferrari will not stand idly by. At the San Marino Grand Prix, both Prost and Alesi had shown in practice that their cars had made up the ground they had lost at the start of the season, but they were unable to reap the benefits of the work they had done during the race. When the Ferrari is on track you can expect anything".
Similar words come from Stefano Modena, eagerly awaited with the Tyrrell-Honda on a circuit that should favour the elastic qualities of the Japanese engine and the Pirelli tyres, particularly suited to this type of city track. Even Modena, however, if only because of his Emilian roots, thinks that Ferrari will not be beaten at the start.
"It has always shown us that it has nine lives like cats. It will not be easy for them as the opponents are fierce, but they will certainly try. A victory would erase the crisis and mean a remarkable revival. On the drivers' side, then, Alain Prost is not to be missed and Jean Alesi at Monte-Carlo provided some of his most exciting performances. This is a track that also enhances the drivers' driving skills. For my part, I have several small disappointments to make up for and I will try to be in the game".
Ivan Capelli, Andrea De Cesaris, and Pier Luigi Martini are also of the same opinion. The Milanese from Leyton House has no doubts, indeed:
"Ferrari? I wouldn't count my chickens before they hatched. It is a top team, it has enormous means and the will to return to the top".
For De Cesaris, who also expects great satisfaction from his Jordan, a very agile car that has so far proved to be up to the task, Ferrari will be the best surprise for the Italian fans:
"Those who interpreted the lacklustre results of the first three races as a total surrender are wrong. It will not be easy to win, but at this point it would already be important to try to stop Senna. And since there are many who want to do it, who knows, someone might not succeed".
Even more direct is the speech of Martini, who races with the Ferrari-powered Minardi:
"The engine is exceptional, we still have some problems with the clutch, but Prost and Alesi will be ready. If I had to bet on roulette, I would play the red numbers 27 and 28, those of the two Ferrari".
On Thursday, 9 May 1991, moments of fear are experienced in Formula 1. An anonymous phone call received by the police in the late afternoon, while drivers and technicians, having finished the first practice session for the Monaco Grand Prix, are gathered to discuss results and programmes, warns that a bomb has been planted in the enclosure where the teams' trucks and motorhomes are parked, and that it would explode shortly. Fifty officers surround the Ferrari and McLaren vehicles, which are at the head of the group next to the pier of the old harbour, ordering them to clear the area immediately. Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and the rest of the group take refuge under the nearby arcades, anxiously awaiting the controls. The police conduct a thorough search, but nothing is found. A compulsive liar, some kind of sick joke? Probably, perhaps by some fans disappointed that they were not able to approach their champions. Certainly, the alarm is considerable. The risk of an attack is always present and in such a sensitive environment such episodes arouse particular tension. Shortly before, Ayrton Senna played his usual steamroller role in practice. He crushes his rivals (and also his team-mate, Gerhard Berger), leaving no space. So the script repeats itself, almost boringly. The Brazilian is the fastest, setting a new circuit record. A flash: 1'20"508, at an average speed of 148.815 km/h. An impressive result. Only a decade ago, when Gilles Villeneuve won, they were travelling at 130 km/h. What about Ferrari? Alain Prost is fourth, behind the two McLaren-Honda drivers and Riccardo Patrese. The French driver explains that he is quite satisfied, but he only communicates this to the French press because he refuses any official interview with the Italian press with an eloquent gesture (the reason would be a fine imposed on him by Ferrari for his pre-Imola declarations). In any case, Alain Prost is the fastest with the first of the two sets of qualifying tyres available. Then, when the asphalt improves and the rivals as well, he finds traffic, always completing his laps squeezed between two or three cars. Jean Alesi, sixth (in the morning he hit a guardrail breaking the rear wing and causing himself some pain), is unable to balance the single-seater:
"I was not happy with the engine before. When we put the special petrol on for time trials, the engine was very good, but the car jumped too much".
According to Prost, or rather according to French journalists, there is room for improvement for Saturday (no practice on Friday), when the engine will receive more precise electronic adjustments and minor set-up changes will be introduced. Ferrari seems to have some technical novelties. Cesare Fiorio - who is right about defending any secrets - claims that there is nothing special, that the engines (covered by the mechanics at every pit stop) are hidden because there are too clever photographers who, from the cabins above the Scuderia stands, exaggerate in capturing the details. Nevertheless, something unusual can be glimpsed: a small side bulkhead that seems to channel a flow of air right into the intake system. Among the day's rumours is one according to which Senna has obtained a payment from Maranello for an option that expired in 1990. Ferrari denies it:
Jean Alesi would like to be the one to personally stop Ayrton Senna's run-up to the world title. But the young Frenchman knows very well that this is not possible, that he has to think above all about producing results for Ferrari at this difficult time. To his hot temperament, due to his Sicilian origin, he superimposes a certain kind of philosophy learnt elsewhere.
"After what happened at Imola, I almost feel ashamed. In front of all those fans, leaving the track like a rookie. Yet I couldn't stay behind Modena for so long, I would have lost contact with the leaders, with Patrese and Senna. I could already hear people's reproaches in my ears: Jean you slept, in Formula 1 every second is precious. So I made a risky overtake and it went badly, worse than I expected. At least I managed to get back on track, instead I crashed into a pile of tyres and broke the suspension, retirement was inevitable".
Jean Alesi remembers the most barren episode of his still immature career on the eve of a very important race, the Monaco Grand Prix, which will see him engaged in the second qualifying round.
"I know this circuit, I raced here before with Formula 3 and last year with Tyrrell when I finished second behind Senna. I don't like it much, but it exalts me, because it is a track that highlights the skills of a driver, more than those of the car. Here you have to start at the front if you want to hope for a win. The engine is brilliant, I just need to study the set-up a little more to be really good. The race? It's difficult to make a prediction that is different from the one favourable to Senna. He's a monster, he doesn't make mistakes any more and he's very fast, he knows how to take advantage of every situation, he always gets away with it. However, I would not give an easy victory to the Brazilian this time. The opponents are many, all fierce. The one over there is making us look bad, it would be time to stop him, to make life hard for him. A fourth win for his McLaren after the previous three would kill the championship".
"I wouldn't take him for beaten at the start. Alain is a very special guy, who comes out when least expected. He has been through difficult times in every sense of the word, but he is recharging his batteries to take revenge. Of course we can't ask him to do everything on his own, he will have to be helped. And that is also my task, as I certainly cannot aim for the title now. It's not easy in F1 to be a team player, as there is always something that goes wrong when you make too many plans. But it is clear that a combative team-mate who is difficult to overtake, for the rivals of course, can make a contribution. I hope that better days will soon come for Ferrari. And why not start on Sunday in the Principality, in front of a public that is normally all Italian, ready to go wild to cheer for Ferrari? However, the fact remains that we will do everything we can to make up for the failures of the beginning of the season, provided that bad luck does not continue to haunt us. On the contrary, we say that fortune favours the bold and we will also try to be a little more resourceful".
On Saturday, 11 May 1991, the weekend resumes after the rest day. The theme - as usual - is trying to snatch pole position from Ayrton Senna and his McLaren. A very difficult if not impossible task. Gerhard Berger, the Brazilian's teammate, and the Patrese-Mansell duo in the Williams-Renault will try. An attempt will also be made by Ferrari, but perhaps the Maranello team could be content to improve on Alain Prost's fourth time and Jean Alesi's sixth. Although starting in front is almost assured success at this track, it will be more important to refine the set-up of the cars for the race. Opinions, predictions, however, are still divided. Moderately optimistic Cesare Fiorio and Alain Prost, for once in agreement, pessimistic Jean Alesi. The sporting director says that different set- ups will be tried in the morning to find the one best suited to the circuit and that he hopes to make progress. An analysis that had already been expressed on Thursday by Prost, who in the meantime does not show up in the pits, preferring to go golfing in the Cannes area. Who knows, maybe a little relaxation will do him good.
"We're doing quite well here, it's just a matter of refining the preparation better, but the foundations are there to get closer to the McLarens".
Less in favour of an immediate positive solution to the Ferrari crisis appears instead Jean Alesi. The Frenchman, without using accusatory tones or blaming anyone, expresses some clarifications, answering several questions. Meanwhile, he denies direct responsibility:
"In our plans I was supposed to have the role of goad for Senna. Attacking him in the race and in qualifying, putting him under pressure. Prost, on the other hand, with his experience, should have collected the results of my and his work on the track. But when the car is not competitive, plans and intentions fall apart".
Why are Ferrari's performances not up to those of the British team?
"Evidently their chassis-engine-aerodynamics complex is better. Here in Monte-Carlo my car jumps too much on the undulating asphalt, it is nervous, difficult to drive. We still have to work to find a better balance".
So how do you explain that Alain Prost went faster in the first practice session and above all that he did not complain about the behaviour of his car?
"There is a determining factor. Our two cars are set almost in the same way. But we drive in a very different way. I attack the track, he brushes it. It's clear that in such a situation Alain has an advantage. He takes fewer risks and goes faster. As far as I'm concerned, the more I realise I've set good times, the more I attack. The more I push, the more the car breaks down. That's the way I race, it's not easy to change".
Disappointed and bitter, then?
"Not so much. We have only had three races so far… I don't think I have much to reproach myself for, with the exception of the overtaking mistake at Imola. But I don't feel under pressure or on trial. At the end of the day, the biggest tension is on Senna. He is now obliged to win every time… We still don't have much of a chance, we may even finish first, but we should have some luck. Some troubles, breakages of the others".
The one who, instead, is a candidate for victory in the Monaco Grand Prix is Nigel Mansell:
"Don't worry, I'll stop Senna".
Not at all dulled by the money that Williams has had to give out this year to pay for his retirement, the English driver has rather belligerent intentions. And, knowing him well as a brave man capable of attacking even in the most difficult situations, one might even believe him. But how can the Brazilian be stopped by a racer who has not so far picked up a single point, having always been forced to retire in the three races held so far since the start of the season?
"Precisely because of the calculation of probability. For the simple reason that up until now everything has practically gone wrong for me. Our car is competitive and Riccardo Patrese has already proved that. As for me, I don't think I've gone soft. Rather, I have a desire to win that sometimes scares me, I would do anything to get first place. We have an elastic engine and an electronically controlled gearbox that should make it easier for us on such a demanding track, hopefully without a reliability problem. But the troubles with this semi-automatic transmission should be over, the engineers at Williams have worked hard to remedy the problems in a very, very short time".
Will it just be a McLaren-Williams and Senna-Berger versus Mansell-Patrese duel?
"I hope so, even if you have to recognise that there are quite a few outsiders. Ferrari first of all, then the Pirelli-shod cars that could be the surprise of the day, then the Tyrell-Honda of Modena and the Benetton-Ford of Piquet and Moreno. But above all the latter two could have problems of youth with the cars, they are still immature after their debut at Imola".
And for Ferrari only a supporting role?
"I am still very attached to the Maranello team, even if some people claim otherwise. I have a lot of friends there who love me and even the fans still show me their great affection. I wouldn't mind Ferrari coming back to success, but subordinate to us at Williams. The ideal order of arrival? I'll tell you straight away: first myself of course, second Patrese, third Alesi, fourth Prost. Is that OK? No, joking aside, I really hope to get a great result. I have never won on this track, although I have come close several times. As for the Italian team, I can only wish them well, that they recover as soon as possible and return to the top".
Nigel Mansell, the lion-hearted man, is quite unbalanced in his predictions. But it is part of his character which is in this sense not very Anglo-Saxon and very Gascon. And, in fact, he does not go very far from the truth in saying that at this time Williams-Renault is the closest rival to McLaren-Honda. Patrese had proved this at Imola with his breakaway on the rain-soaked circuit, interrupted when he had already pulled away from the king of the wet Senna only by a trivial electrical fault. It remains to be seen whether it will be Mansell himself who will play the role of anti-Senna or whether it will be Riccardo Patrese who will once again checkmate the Brazilian. On Friday, 10 May 1991, the sun shone on the Principality's architecture and Ayrton Senna's tired smile. The king of circuits has spent the whole day resting in the pits, starting work early in the morning, when most of his colleagues are on the Turbie hill, struggling with slippery balls and soggy lawns for the golf tournament organised by the sponsors. George Bernard Shaw used to say:
"To play golf it is not essential to be stupid. But it is certainly a great advantage".
Ayrton must think in much the same way. Why should he care about wasting time stringing holes when he has to prepare for pole position number 56 and his fourth consecutive World Championship victory? His green is the asphalt of McLaren's motorhome, the champion's backyard is this tangle of curves and buildings that has seen him triumph three times (1987, 1989 and 1990) and still sees him as the favourite.
"At Monte-Carlo, the driver counts more than the car".
Said Alain Prost, without realising he was throwing a boomerang in the air.
"With the sun, Senna is closer to us".
Dared Jean Alesi to add. But here, it is clear by now, it is the McLarens who are doing the heavy lifting. When it's sunny, Senna's reign shines. When it rains, it only rains on the Ferraris. Like on Thursday, when the Maranello cars accumulated an abysmal two-second delay on the Brazilian's record on the first day. But even on Friday, while the warm rays dry the deserted track, the Ferrari marquee is shaken by the rain of rumours, the strong wind of gossip. The strongest one was put about by a weekly magazine, dressing up as a scoop the suspicion of many: Senna may have already signed an option for Ferrari.
The Maranello team has denied it. But if not true, the news remains plausible and, what is more, topical. A Brazilian journalist, the only one close to the driver, confesses:
"Senna at Ferrari is a dream. But a dream that money can make come true. Of course, it takes a lot of it".
The Brazilian is worth around $15.000.000: half salary, the rest sponsors. With the switch to Maranello cars, between the one and the other, he could get to $20.000.000. But as unbelievable as it may seem, considering the figures and the character, it is not cold economic calculation that drives Ayrton towards Maranello. He himself has revealed the reason, several times:
"Ferrari is the only true myth in Formula 1, a driver to enter the legend must have driven one".
This is no small premise for someone who has worked for years to build a myth of himself. Based on his brilliance as a driver, first and foremost. But also by using every means, public and private, to magnify his image. From his two mega-press offices, one in São Paulo and the other one in London, Ayrton sorts correspondence, issues bulletins for the press agencies, pre-cooks and calibrates celebratory articles for lazy journalists, selects photographers. And of course, a few untrue things. But the Senna-promotion does not stop there. He weaves relations with cultural and religious associations, keeps an up-to-date file of all the people with whom the very wary Senna comes into contact. Someone, astonished by so much waste of mass-media science for someone who, after all, races in a car, speculates that Senna even wants to be president of Brazil when he grows up and has started to learn his lesson from Color de Mello, a manufactured leader in television studios. Who knows. Certainly for someone like that, Ferrari is not an optional extra but an indispensable stepping stone to ultimate glory. Meanwhile, on Saturday 11 May 1991, the Italians attack Ayrton Senna, but Ferrari is missing from the roll-call. The Brazilian, and perhaps needless to say, after finishing practice will start on pole position in the Monaco Grand Prix. At his side will be Stefano Modena, behind him Riccardo Patrese. Then follow the Benetton-Ford of Nelson Piquet, an English team but - the name itself says it - in fact Italian. To find the Maranello cars one must again mention Gerhard Berger and Nigel Mansell (two former drivers of the Maranello team).
Alain Prost has the seventh time, Jean Alesi the ninth, a total disappointment, the worst result since the start of the World Championship. Not only because of the performances (1.1 and 1.5 second gaps for the two), which, all things considered, were closer to those of the McLarens than in the first qualifying session, but also because of the climate of crisis and impotence that continues to grip the Scuderia Ferrari, which, among other things, races one of its home races in front of tens of thousands of (disappointed) fans. The problems of the first three races of the season are there and remain and no possible way out is in sight, except to change the cars again. It is in fact the single-seater 642 that is the main culprit. On Saturday, Alain Prost and Jean Alesi still had several problems: gearboxes with faulty functioning, powerful but not always perfect engines, unprofitable aerodynamics, especially in the lower part of the circuit, jumps that made driving very difficult. So it is difficult even to hope. For the race, therefore, several themes present themselves. Ayrton Senna was ready to take his fourth consecutive win of the season (the Brazilian set a time of 1'20"344 on the last lap, at an average speed of 149.119 km/h, setting a new circuit record, but in the morning he had crashed into a guardrail, bending a suspension and breaking an axle shaft) and the others were chasing him, led by Stefano Modena and Riccardo Patrese. Starting on pole position is a great advantage here, but it has not always been decisive. Since 1966, twenty-five races, only on ten occasions has the driver who started on pole position come first. However, it will be very difficult to oust the São Paulo star from his announced role as a candidate for success. The two Italians will presumably try. Stefano Modena has two different plans in mind:
"If I can anticipate Senna at the start, I will be forced to force the pace. If not, I may attack as I wait, it will depend on the situation that develops at the moment".
There are a few things to be said about the Italian driver's performance: this is his best qualifying position and he has managed to score a singular first for Honda. For the first time, the Japanese company has two different engines in the front line: the 12-cylinder mounted on the McLaren and the old 10-cylinder from Tyrrell. It may well be that Stefano was helped by the Pirelli tyres, which always provided excellent performance on city circuits, but his talent is undisputed. Just as the incredible drive of Riccardo Patrese, who is experiencing a magical moment, is also recognised. The Paduan, who missed a chance for a possible pole position (Gugelmin slowed him down on his best lap), is aiming for victory:
"My Williams is going well, I will attack as I have always done. If I have no problems, I will fight with Senna until the last metre".
But it will not be a head-to-head, but a race that could also provide surprises. Watch out for Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Gerhard Berger, with a good fight for points also between the Dallara, the Jordan of a rediscovered Andrea De Cesaris (tenth time), the Minardi if clutch and gearbox will resist. Ferrari remains a mysterious object: in theory it could also behave quite well, save what can be saved. But, given the troubles of these days, there is little chance, not least because Alain Prost and Jean Alesi have not had a chance to test the cars thoroughly with a full tank of petrol. In short, a real unknown. The weather has changed, but not the times, still very tough for Ferrari supporters. The Principality's sun kisses another Ayrton Senna record and his pole position number 56. It may well be that it is not the Brazilian who wins. But nobody believes it. And the Ferraris? The Ferraris drown in the famous Monte-Carlo pool. In the first part of the circuit the single-seaters of Alain Prost and Jean Alesi keep up with the formidable pace of the McLarens. But it only takes the two chicanes and the two bends scattered over the last kilometre and a half, between mooring yachts and commanders disguised as sailors, to leave an abyss. Over a second of delay. Multiplied by the 78 Grand Prix laps, that would make one lap exactly. In theory, Senna could afford the indignity of lapping the Maranello cars in the race. And it would truly be the crucifixion of a myth. It was already closed on yet another Saturday of passion. At Imola, at least, the anticipation had lasted right up to the race, only to be dampened on Prost's fatal formation lap and finally extinguished on the third with Alesi's exit. Here the Ferraris are cut off from victory, barring unthinkable cataclysms, even before the traffic lights come on. At 2:00 p.m., when practice ends, the comments inside Scuderia Ferrari are bleak.
"We'd better shoot ourselves".
Cesare Fiorio, in the timekeepers' cage at the edge of the track, glued to the monitor curses:
"What the hell are they up to? Why isn't Prost doing another round?"
But the professor is stuck in the pits, waiting for his car to be tuned up. Until he leaves for his last bet, as one bets one's last chip at the casino. But it is too late, the Frenchman is just in time to see the end of practice chequered flag waved over his nose. Disaster all round. Emptiness around the Ferrari marquee. Even the traditional throng of fans fades in the face of the depressing outcome of practice. A few children hunting for collector's autographs pop up here and there, a few children of wandering sponsors.
The rest is silence and the clatter of forks. Bitter gasps around the dark faces of Alain Prost and Jean Alesi. Here they are, the professor and the apprentice, veterans of the nefarious San Marino Grand Prix. But this time it is not their fault. The professor hints at some alibi at the microphone of the French TV channel Cinq:
"We improved a little compared to Thursday. However, it was not enough to keep up with Senna and the others. The car continues to have serious problems, there is no point in hiding it".
Then he suddenly shuts his mouth in front of the horrible sight of the representatives of the Italian press, with whom he has an open dispute. But with his compatriots he will speak out again, giving the final verdict on the season:
"Starting seventh in Monte-Carlo takes away any desire to race. The chances for the world title are over".
We have to wait until Jean Alesi comes out of the tent to get some more details.
"The car is at peak performance, and that's what Ferrari's performance is today. We changed the set-up but it was not enough to solve the problems. The car is not agile, it jumps too much, it goes very badly on the chicanes and in general at every change of direction. I think there is a serious aerodynamic problem underneath. This Grand Prix will turn out to be a waiting race".
Waiting for what? Caught on the spot, Alesi spreads his arms wide and turns his gaze to the sky. He only relents in front of an interviewer who asks him maliciously what he thinks of the exploits of Stefano Modena, his replacement at Tyrrell.
"I think last year I would have liked to have had a hundred more horsepower in the engine, like he has now".
There is little to add and Cesare Fiorio in fact speaks very little, having admitted that yes, the problem is aerodynamics.
"I have nothing exciting to say, we were convinced we had improved and in fact compared to Thursday we saw something. But the others slip past us every time. Starting from the back it is clear that on a circuit like this there is little we can do, little we can hope for. We are aiming for a reliability race".
Here, too, one would like to ask: who do you trust? But it is better to leave it at that. Nearby, Tyrrell celebrates the first front row start of Stefano Modena, who will be 27 on Sunday, as if it were a pole position. A year ago, he could have ended up in the #28 single-seater in place of Jean Alesi, but the young man does no't seem to harbour any regrets. Ken Tyrrell smiles under his moustache, convinced he has devised the right mixture to undermine the Brazilian dictatorship: Honda engine, Pirelli tyres, Italian driver.
On Sunday, 12 May 1991, at the start of the Monaco Grand Prix, Ayrton Senna stays in the lead in spite of Stefano Modena's excellent sprint. Riccardo Patrese, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost follow. At the first corner, Gerhard Berger violently crashes into Nelson Piquet, causing him to retire due to a broken suspension, while the Austrian manages to continue. In the first few laps, Stefano Modena seems to be able to keep up the pace set by Ayrton Senna, but as soon as the lapping starts, the Brazilian quickly pulls away. On lap 9, Gerhard Berger, in an attempt to clean his visor, soiled by oil left by a Minardi, loses control of his car and ends up against the barriers. Shortly after, Pierluigi Martini was given a ten-second stop&go (for the first time in Formula 1 history) for obstructing Stefano Modena while lapping in the Piscine area. During lap 30, Prost manages to overtake Nigel Mansell, whose engine died twice due to gearbox problems that he then overcame, moving into fourth position. Riccardo Patrese, meanwhile, significantly reduced his gap to Stefano Modena, moving up behind him, but on lap 42, the Honda engine of the Tyrrell, which up to this point had not given any problems, explodes, and due to the oil leaked on the asphalt, Riccardo Patrese loses control of his car, ending up against the guardrails. At this point, the classification sees Ayrton Senna firmly in the lead of the race, with a reassuring advantage over Alain Prost, who follows in second position. Nigel Mansell is third, followed by Jean Alesi, Roberto Moreno and J.J. Lehto. Prost, however, has problems with a nut on his right front wheel, which has come loose, causing him to lose a position to Nigel Mansell. With five laps to go, the French driver, fearing he might lose the tyre, decides to return to the pits, but catches the Ferrari mechanics unprepared. According to Cesare Fiorio, the team's technical director, this is due to the fact that Prost communicated too late his intention to stop for a pit stop, while the latter, in a press silence towards the Italian journalists, refused to give his version of the facts. Thus, both Jean Alesi and Roberto Moreno gained a position, both authors of a regular but lonely race. J.J. Lehto, meanwhile, in trouble with the gearbox, is forced to let his team mate Emanuele Pirro pass him, losing the chance to score points. At the end of the 78 laps, Ayrton Senna wins the Monaco Grand Prix and wins for the fourth consecutive time, followed by Nigel Mansell, Jean Alesi, Roberto Moreno, Alain Prost and Emanuele Pirro. Ayrton Senna, who has seen him?
He disappeared at the start and was found on the podium, on the top step, of course. In his hands two fantastic winning four of a kind: four consecutive victories since the start of the season, four first places here in the Principality, the last three of which one after the other since 1989. And to top it all off, also the thirtieth win since he has been racing in Formula 1. Primates one after the other and enormous happiness for the São Paulo star who is demolishing all his adversaries also on a psychological level. Even his team-mate, Gerhard Berger, is now a ghost, destroyed by the South American's prowess. Senna's triumphs, or rather his triumphal march, cause perhaps irreparable damage to everyone. While Ayrton won by always complaining about something, an authentic habit of the champions of the wheel, Ferrari partially saved the balance by placing third with Jean Alesi (behind Nigel Mansell) and fifth with Prost, who finished behind Roberto Moreno in the Benetton. But the result should not deceive: the Maranello cars were never competitive, they suffered abysmal gaps and the fastest lap set by Alain Prost one lap from the end was only the result of a desperate pit stop during which the tyres were changed. With the new tyres the Frenchman vented all his anger in vain, but without altering the Maranello cars' opaque performance. It was precisely the tyre change with seven laps to go that gave tangible proof of the crisis and nervousness gripping Ferrari. If it is true that Alain Prost's sudden return to the pits took technicians and mechanics by surprise, it is equally true that a team that has always been an example of organisation and efficiency now appears a shadow of itself. A mistake with a front wheel bolt that had apparently come loose. It was difficult to unscrew it, then the nut ended up under the flat bottom of the car. So the car had to be raised to remove the inconvenient object as the rear wheels, raised off the ground, were skidding. The episode in itself is not serious, also because the whole thing happened when the driver could not have won any better place, and if anything this is a worrying symptom. These things happen and have always happened in racing, but many other worrying facts signal a general state of malaise. Cesare Fiorio, who postpones hopes of victory until July, between the French and British Grand Prix, when the new car will be ready, is trying not to lose optimism.
As for the World Championship, of course, they will try again next year. The balance is less negative for Ferrari at Monaco than at Imola. But deeper down, it is more melancholic. This time, there were no glaring errors to be reckoned with for Alain Prost and Jean Alesi. But at least, the sudden exit from the San Marino Grand Prix still left room for dreams: what might have happened if the Professor had not bogged down on the practice lap and if Jean Alesi had not left the track for the sake of overtaking? Now we know what would have happened: nothing. Senna would have won anyway, such is still the winding road that separates Ferrari from the World Champion's McLaren. For some time now the Professor has not spoken to the Italian press, guilty, in his opinion, of defaming him in order to sell more newspapers. And to continue the work of demolition, despite the current blackout, by distorting the tone of the interviews that the Frenchman continues to grant, copiously, to his compatriots. In short, if Prost speaks to the Italians, they misrepresent his statements. If he does not speak, they not only misrepresent but also mistranslate. The only direct testimony is therefore that of Cesare Fiorio, who, hot on the heels of the race, says:
"Prost unfortunately warned us late that he had tyre problems (it was actually the nut that locks the right front wheel, ed). The car was already at the Rascasse bend. In five seconds you can't expect to prepare a proper gearbox. We were caught off guard and a lot of time was lost. We are left with the consolation of the fastest lap, the penultimate one".
In fact, everything happened in the pit. Alain Prost stopped the car a metre early and the mechanics had to pull back with all their tools. Then, while they were changing the tyres, the nut slipped under the car lifting the rear wheels and the mechanics had to use the jack again to unlock it. Blame the difficulty in communicating with Alain Prost? The driver obviously gives a different version to his French friends.
"I had felt for some time that the front wheel was giving way, but I had no idea that it was the bolt. I tried to keep second place, then I had to give way to Mansell and concentrated on third. Until I heard a squeal and fearing that I was going to lose the tyre for good, I ducked into the pits. I can't say it worked out badly. Of course, the tension around Ferrari now ends up affecting every little episode".
Even Jean Alesi, on his first podium with Ferrari, does not seem entirely satisfied. The French-Italian had not yet fully recovered from the morning's big upset, when in a few minutes the team had decided to change first the set-up, softer to avoid grip problems, and then the engine, which had suddenly and mysteriously jammed.
"I raced in the dark".
But with a good dose of humility, the young French driver chose to do a defensive race.
"I can't say I enjoyed it, this is not my way of racing and I didn't really enjoy the race. But it was too important today to go all the way. Today the Ferraris are not competitive, you have to try to limit the damage. I hope the music changes at the French Grand Prix".
Alesi also adds a necessary clarification:
"I would not like that in all this mess made up around our team those who work seriously, in the pits, people who never take a break, who give their soul and do not make too much chatter, would get in the way".
The appointment therefore moves to the French Grand Prix, trying in the meantime to reduce the gulf separating Ferrari from Ayrton Senna's McLaren, favourite in both Canada and Mexico. As for the messianic wait for the new car, engineer Castelli, Scuderia Ferrari's technical director, points out that much of the work has been concentrated on the aerodynamic aspect, the weak point of the Maranello cars.
"Even in Monte-Carlo the car was going like a cricket, we have to give it more stability. But the engine is fine, it's not the case of making revolutions".
In the meantime, Ayrton Senna turns his eyes to the sky when, while on the podium, the Brazilian anthem is played. Does he look up at the blue and yellow flag flying on the flagpole or does he thank God - with whom he says he has a privileged conversation - for once again protecting him from above? This time, however, the McLaren star does not talk about his religiosity or heavenly visions that began right here in Monaco.
"I am very happy with this result. Now the championship is looking good, I have a good lead. I don't know if it was an easy race or a difficult one, anyway it is never easy to finish first in Monte-Carlo. It was important to finish first and it was a very hard race physically. And I'm proud to have won the first four races of the season, they told me it's some kind of record, that no one had ever done it. Modena, however, put me under pressure at the start and I was forced to pull too hard".
So at the end I had tyres at the limit of wear. I had to trim the performance of the car. Then, the South American began to complain:
"I had several other problems. With the gearbox that wasn't perfect, with the engine because of a drop in power. We still have a lot of work to do, you can't rest on your laurels. Sooner or later the others will come, the season is still very long, I don't want to have bad surprises".
Senna is a specialist: he never stops prodding the McLaren and Honda men, he is demanding, he is never satisfied enough. From Tuesday, with all the other teams, the Brazilian driver will be at work at Magny-Cours where he will test for the first time the new track that will host the French Grand Prix on Sunday 7 July 1991. Not far behind Ayrton Senna are the two faces of a disappointment, those of Stefano Modena and Riccardo Patrese. The Italian drivers, protagonists of a great start, did not make it to the finish line. Engine exploded for the former, a slip on oil for the latter. A real bummer that deprived them of the chance to fight, if not for victory, at least for the podium. Both however, at the end of the race, maintained the calm of the strong.
"It was a bang. Without any warning the engine blew up. All I could do was park the car at the side of the track before the chicane after the tunnel. Too bad, because second place was assured".
It has to be said that Stefano Modena had lost contact with Ayrton Senna because of two other Italian drivers: Pierluigi Martini and Emanuele Pirro, both lapped (one by two laps, the other by one), were fighting each other as if they were engaged in a duel for victory. Ruggles accumulated over the previous days, when in qualifying the Roman had hampered the Romagnolo.
"I don't know what the reasons were, but I have to say that they were making impossible trajectories and blocking me like moving chicanes".
Different story for Riccardo Patrese.
"I don't know whether to cry or laugh. My Williams was going really well. And if I hadn't started on the second row, I probably would have been stuck on Senna. When I reached Modena, I suddenly found myself on a strip of oil. I slammed left and right, with no possibility of control. I felt like I was in a skating rink. A real misfortune, but I'm optimistic for the future, I'll take some satisfaction sooner or later".
And, meanwhile, in Italy, with Ferrari, the second TV sport by audience, the first by advertising revenue, is losing popularity, ,: Formula 1. The figures for the Monaco Grand Prix, broadcast delayed by Mediaset, are disappointing: 4.727.000 viewers (39.13% share). Above all, almost 3.000.000 less than the previous San Marino Grand Prix (7.681.000), broadcast by Rai. Already not an exciting result, given the football championship break and the rebellion of 2.000.000 Ferrari fans who had turned off the in the first few minutes once the Maranello cars left the stage and track. It is an interesting affair for those interested in television, tragic for those who procure commercials by trade, and comical for those who have followed the events that originated the televised partitioning of Formula 1 in Italy. Before arriving at that decision, Rai and Fininvest touched the following, luminous stages: the wild auction that raised the price of the rights to be paid to FOCA from 1.050.000.000 lire to 16.000.000 lire in one year; the television agreement, achieved thanks to high political mediations, which split the journalistic base of both groups; the payment of an additional 6 billion lire penalty to the aggressive Ecclestone, who immediately sniffed the subcontracting deal; the creation of mega staffs, on one side and the other, to better figure in the one common ground. All this only to realise that if Alain Prost's wheel loses a bolt, or Jean Alesi's gear does not go in, or the Maranello team engineers do not guess at aerodynamics, the spectators flee. For it is the Ferrari myth that makes the audience. Nor can one hope that, in the future, people will take a liking to watching Ayrton Senna's McLaren-Honda belt out one lap after another with infuriating regularity, like a computer-controlled toy car on an electric track. This divided pie now tastes a bit rancid. It is as if Berlusconi and De Benedetti, having bled themselves dry on the ashes of the old Mondadori, suddenly discovered that publishing is in crisis, magazines are losing advertising and the koi in the Segrate pond have AIDS. Another time, however, at the peace table, it will be good to summon Cesare Fiorio and Alain Prost as well…